Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part IV

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I HAD not, as I thought, been well asleep, before I was awakened by the Recorder saying:—"Wake up, Specimen! If you wish to go to the Observatory, it is time we were off." I was soon beside him, feeling quite refreshed. He said it was now midnight; but the room in which we had slept was quite light, the luminous ceiling taking the place of lamps. We at once went out into the open air. Just as I got out, I found that my eyes were pained by the intense darkness after the bright light in the interior. Sudden changes of any kind give humanity pain, whether it be from light to darkness, from joy to sorrow, or from great sorrow to great joy, there is always a feeling of pain, that, though but transitory, is acute. No doubt this is due to the reaction of the nerves from one extreme to the other. After my eyes got accustomed to the darkness, I could see that the scene before us was exceedingly pretty. I saw numbers of specks like fire-flies moving about very rapidly, casting a slight glow around them. These, the Recorder said, were people going about on various errands, who showed these lights to prevent collisions. Each person carried four lights, two placed one over the other on the right shoulder, and one on the left, so that you could tell in which direction they were moving. The fourth light was placed on the back of the head in such a position that it could only be seen from behind. "See, my Specimen, now I am lighted up," said my friend. I looked at him, and saw these tiny little lamps which were not larger than a small pea, and looked like very diminutive incandescent lamps. But the Recorder told me that that was not the case. He said they were made of the same material as the ceilings, and were simply buttons on his costume that absorbed the light during the day, giving it off at night when he uncovered them. He then asked me:—"Should you like to see the grounds illuminated?" I said:—"It would give me much pleasure."

He went back to the wall of the building and turned a handle. In an instant hundreds of light balls appeared all over the surface of the grounds. One of these was quite close to me, and I went forward to examine it. It appeared like a great ball of chalk, about a foot in diameter, heated to a white heat, but I could feel no warmth coming from it; it was simply a gush of the purest light, and coming as it did off a sphere, the light was thoroughly diffused. "These lights are all constructed of the same wonderful material," remarked the Recorder. "No antiquated coal gas, water gas, electricity, lime, or oil lights, are required now, as in the days of the ancients. No, everything we have is self-sustaining, and lasts for scores of years. We collect our heat in the same way, storing it past until we require it, but this takes more skill and costs more trouble than the storage of light.

The concentrated heat of the sun requires a very refractory material to retain it for any length of time, but our scientific men for generations back have been studying this subject with no small success. We can now store all the concentrated sun heat that we require for our manufactures and for heating purposes; still we have much to learn on this subject."

"But, come along, we must be off to the Observatory. When we get clear of this building, we shall see how the moon and stars look to-night."

He again took me by the arm, imparting the same stream of energy as before; and off we started, passing along as before. There was the same pleasant sensation, the same rapid motion.

On we rushed, passing hundreds of others who were out for a midnight stroll. We paused a moment on a small hill, as the Recorder said, that, now we were well clear of all artificial light and of the buildings, he would like me to examine the moon and stars with the naked eye before we got to the Observatory. We had been travelling so fast that I had not thought of looking at the stars, and the moon being behind us, I did not notice it. But on coming to rest, and looking up through the clear atmosphere the distinctness of each star was something very marked, and as for the moon, it had just emerged from behind a cloud and it was perfectly lovely. It was about a three quarter moon. The brilliancy of the bright side was grand, and the distinctness with which you could see the unilluminated portion of the globe was marvellous. There you saw the outline, floating as it were in an azure atmosphere. My delight on seeing this lovely view of the heavens caused my face and indeed my whole body to beam with a glow of pleasure, and I could not refrain from saying aloud, "How wondrous are Thy works, O Lord!" "Yes," repeated the Recorder, "truly they are wondrous, ay, they are wonderful beyond all comparison. Advanced as we now are, and with all our scientific knowledge, we know that we are just entering on the borders of a vast and inexhaustible question—a question of investigation of such unfathomable magnitude—that I believe tens of thousands of years after our day, even allowing that science and intelligence advance with greater strides than they ever have done, the finite mind of humanity can never grow to be large enough or noble enough to be able to conceive the magnitude of space. No, my Specimen, we must leave that to the mind infinite." Again we started forward at the same rapid pace, never tired, never weary, always pressing onward, until at last we arrived at the top of a great hill, covered by a very large building. "This is our local Observatory," said the Recorder; "you will see from the numbers of visitors that come and go that we make our observatories quite an institution. In fact, as you will see, we make the greatest practical use of the moon; we communicate with all parts of the world by its assistance. We know exactly by tables at what positions of the earth the moon is visible at certain hours and days, and by means of what we call our compound reflectors, we can cast a shadow of any message we like on it. Operators in other parts of the world are constantly observing it also, and take a series of photographs every second of the shadows that we throw, so that observers in various parts of the world are transmitting and receiving news every clear night; these photographs are an exact record of all that goes on all over the world, and this record is made common property, the moon taking the place of a big sign board that all nations see and read at will."

I ventured to ask, "Was the moon inhabited?" "Oh, dear no!" he said, "that has been disproved beyond all doubt. It is completely covered with a white material like snow; but I tell you what we have proved beyond a doubt, that all the planets are inhabited. We find that the inhabitants of many planets have noticed our reflections as cast on the moon, and we have also noticed theirs. We have a comlete set of photographs of the moon covered with their hieroglyphics, and I have no doubt they have some means of recording ours. Many of our great philosophers are pondering over these hieroglyphics trying to put them into an alphabet, as yet without success, but that too will come some day. The inhabitants of the other planets may find out our code before we find out theirs, but I firmly believe the day will come when the Creator will allow us to converse with them. Perhaps it is the spirits of our own people who are trying to talk with us. Who can tell? Only the Infinite!"

We now entered the Observatory, which was the most extensive institution I had yet seen. It was a great circular building, not less than three hundred feet in diameter. In the centre was an enormous reflecting telescope. I should say the main tube could not be less than twelve feet in diameter; how they ever constructed the lenses of this great investigator of the heavens, I know not. I was allowed to look at the moon through this great instrument, and its surface had all the appearance of a snow clad country. I saw shadows being cast on the white surface, these being no doubt the shadows my friend had explained to me. I thought this system of moon transmission a grand idea, and my carnal mind sped back again to the year 1888. I thought to myself, "What a glorious company could have been floated with this invention at the promoters' back in my time!" The capital might have been ten millions of pounds sterling, and it would have been applied for ten times over, and gone up to a premium in no time." Such were the thoughts that haunted me. The Recorder, I noticed, was looking at me with a sad, earnest face.

He said, "My Specimen, such thoughts as I noticed passing through your mind are the thoughts which led to actions that ruined your nation shortly after your time. I know that, although you call yourself an artist, you have not confined yourself to art alone; you have been doing some stock-jobbing, as it was called in your day. This is the rock the ancients split upon; they lost their heads through it; they lost sincerity of heart through it; they lost nationality through it; but worst of all, they lost morality through it. They went into it to make money, which was a prize in those days, but it invariably ended in their losing the miserable thing they prized so much. My Specimen, defile not your mind with such thoughts." I blushed for shame, as it was true that at one time in my youth I had erred in this way.

I was now shown the stars and planets. There they were in their myriads away! away! in space, inconceivable space! I felt humbled, terribly humbled, after seeing all this. I never had been proud of what I had done. I had never boasted of the little I did do, but how contemptible it all appeared, when placed alongside this! Ah! truly did the Recorder speak when he said, "The Observatory is the place to humble those who dared to boast of what they had achieved."

I was humbled; I was humiliated; I felt that all we could see, all we could think, and all we could imagine, fell short by a hundred-fold, nay, by a million-fold, of a true conception of what space and the universe really is.

I was shown hundreds of instruments, of the most ingenious nature for performing all kinds of astronomical work, and for reproducing all that was seen. There were a great number of astronomers at work, mostly old men, and belonging to the highest order of this strange people. Several of them spoke to me in old English. We conversed for a long time on various subjects of common interest. This was the first place in which the Recorder had introduced me. Much of our conversation was about astronomy. Although I was a fairly well informed man, I did not know enough of astronomy to enter into any discussion, and so wisely contented myself with being spoken to. One old astronomer asked me if I had heard of the comet "Baria." On my replying in the negative, he remarked, "You have much to learn; it was discovered in the year 4200, by a great astronomer called Baria. It has worked extraordinary changes on our globe since that date."

Here the Recorder interposed, saying that my mind was scarcely prepared for such information. "He will get it all in good time," he added.

I was next taken to see what was called a moonbeam separator. This, I was informed, was one of the cleverest inventions that had been made for thousands of years.

Each beam of moonlight could be separated by this machine, and by means of an ingeniously arranged table this beam's fellow, or other ray, could have its location determined by finding the angle it bore to its correspondent, so that one beam might rest in England, while its corresponding ray might rest on some other part of our globe. It had been discovered that these moonbeams would transmit sound with wonderful distinctness, and a sort of telephone had been invented, by means of which any country in our globe on which the moon shone simultaneously, could be communicated with by moonbeam telephone. You could only, however, send a message towards and have it delivered from the bright side of the moon. It was explained to me that the moon must be shining to produce what they termed an active ray of reflected light, but once this ray was created it could be used as a means of transmitting sound. Not being a scientist, I fear I have been unable to fully describe all that I was told about this extraordinary invention, but at the time it was explained to me I thought I understood its principles fairly well.

I was now taken into another room more than twice the size of the Observatory. This was without exception the most interesting place I had yet seen in this land of wonders. The entire room, not less than 600 feet square was one enormous working orrery, shewing the sun, moon, and all the planets in their proper positions. The sun was made of that peculiar white luminous material I have so often mentioned. How the globes were actuated or how supported I could not tell, but there they were, apparently moving about with the same regularity as those in the firmament. But the Recorder informed me this was not the case. "They moved," he said, "with great irregularity, and often came to a standstill.

"You see," he naively remarked, "they are but the works of the finite and must be very imperfect, still," he continued, "they are of incalculable value for instructing the young."

I was shown many other marvellous things in the Observatory. But to me, the most striking law of nature that was explained to me, was what the Recorder called the lines of force.

"These," he said, "bear some relation to what you termed magnetism and electricity in your day. These sciences you knew but little of. Your professors used to say, that electricity flowed through wires as water does through pipes. They told you that a magnetic compass, except deflected by local influences, always pointed to the north. But this was very preparatory teaching. We now know a great deal more about these mysterious forces, and yet we know but little. In these mysterious agents there is much that is yet to be learned by future generations. Still we have discovered that both what you call electricity and what you called magnetism can be directed, controlled and utilized, by concentrated human will and intelligence. It is by these powers that we move our bodies through air and over country. It is by this power we propel our ships through the ocean, and our boats over our lakes; it is by this power that we navigate our aerial fleets from one part of the world to the other. In your clay you did not understand these great and useful agents. You tried to force them into use by cumbersome mechanical contrivances, but you had to spend more power in getting them associated than you could get out of them when they were associated. The result was that your people spent the world's stock of latent heat that was stored in your coal measures without getting any good results, whereas we can, by the force of our wills, assisted by science, control and utilize these tremendous agents for the benefit of mankind.

"But now, my Specimen, we must to rest, as even the people of this age of advancement require sleep, for without sleep the brain cannot renew its vigour or recuperate its power. The brain is more taxed now than it ever has been since the world began, and it only retains its power if we take advantage of the knowledge we have of its requirements in the way of rest. To-morrow I shall give you a general sketch of Britain as it is; and on the following day I shall take you to see the principal seat of our government."

We now returned, and entered the same room in which we had slept before visiting the Observatory, finding all the beds occupied save the two we had rested on. The occupants evidently slept very lightly, as all sat up and looked at us when we entered, but immediately lay down again.

It was bright as sunshine in the room when I awoke next day. All our fellow sleepers were gone, and the Recorder was ready waiting for me. He provided me with the usual refreshment of bread, fruit and water. He seemed to care for me as one in my day would have cared for a favourite horse or dog; he watched my every movement and anticipated my every want. I believe he could read all that passed in my mind. I did not object to this, as never at any moment did I experience anything but kindly feelings towards him. When I had finished my simple meal, he said:—

"My Specimen, I have now been as long away from my office of records as I can well spare, so if you will excuse me we shall go back to the place we started from. After I have given directions as to the day's business, I shall devote some time describing the present state of the British, or I should rather say what used to be known as the English speaking nations, and thus fulfil my promise to you."

We went outside, and began our journey back in the same manner as we came, the Recorder supporting me and propelling me by his force of will as before. When we arrived at the seat of Local Government, he went up to the same old Sage, who had received me in the interior of the building when I first arrived, and had a conversation of about ten minutes' duration with him. The Sage took down all his instructions, and when he had finished placed the plate on his message stool, touched the button, and it disappeared. We now passed into the Recorder's office; he invited me to sit beside him at a table. We were just seated, when the door opened, and ten elderly men entered, bearing large trays filled with metal plates of the same kind as I have previously described as having seen resting on the shelves around this room.

The first man came forward and placed his tray on the table. The Recorder, glancing with great rapidity over each plate, signed it at the bottom. He was not long in getting through the ten trays, and when the operation was completed he put a tablet bearing a number on each tray. The men then took the contents of the trays and placed them on the shelves under corresponding numbers to those on the Recorder's tablet. All this would probably occupy about half-an-hour from the time the ten men entered until they left. During the whole of this time not a word was spoken. Everything being done in absolute silence, save the scratching of the writing-pin on the metal surface, and the light jingling of the plates against one another, there was no noise. When the first ten men left, several other batches of ten came in. The same routine was gone through with each batch; and although we must have sat for more than two hours in all I did not weary, the fact being that I amused myself studying the strange looking men that brought in the records.

After he was finished, the Recorder rose, and, asking me to follow him, we passed through a door and entered a very large room filled with men and women of all ages. They looked to me to be from eighteen to eighty, and were all busy at work writing on metal plates. My friend told me that these were his clerks, and that they were engaged writing the day's records of his district.

"We have now two hundred seats of government in the British Empire," he said; "each seat gets a condensed record of the transactions of all the local seats sent to it daily, while a full record is sent from local seats to the Central Government offices, situated within about fifty miles of the city you used to call London, but London, like all other cities and towns, no longer exists except as a ruin. You look anxious about this; but when I have instructed you in the physical and social changes that have taken place, you will not be surprised that we have no cities now." While walking through this large hall the Recorder stopped and spoke to many of his clerks, giving, as I assumed, instructions, or asking questions as to what they were doing. We presently returned to his private office, and went from thence through the bathroom into his private study, that in which I had had my first meal in this strange country. Asking me to be seated, he said:—

"Now, my Specimen, having signed all the State records, and seen that my people have work laid out for them for some days, I am free to devote my time to you. I know you are burning with curiosity to hear what your country now is, and how it is governed. You have seen something of the people as they are, and their habits while at work; but as yet you have seen but little of their pleasures save the boating parties we saw on the lakes and the domestic pleasure you got a glance of as we passed some of their residences. These are things you will soon get familiar with; but you must be instructed by me, as I can spare time, in the history of what has taken place since your day."